Fun_People Archive
27 Apr
R.S.A. 129 falls, taking the squeamish ossifrage with it...

Date: Wed, 27 Apr 94 22:03:30 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: R.S.A. 129 falls, taking the squeamish ossifrage with it...

From: WhiteBoard News for April 27, 1994

This item comes from Jodi Shapiro:

New York, New York:

An international effort to crack a tough mathematical
problem has succeeded, researchers said yesterday.  The
problem has stood out as a challenge to computer
scientists for 17 years because it was linked to a
popular coding system and was said to be proof of the
system's security.

The problem was to factor a 129-digit number, breaking
it into its component parts the way a molecule is
broken into atoms.  This particular number was
suggested 17 years ago by the inventors of a coding
system that  was said to be provably secure because to
break it a person would have to factor a very large

To show how hard it was, the inventors of the coding
system published the 129 digit number, encoded a
message with it, and challenged people to break the
code and read the message.  They predicted it would
take 40 quadrillion years to factor it with the methods
of the time and that no one would be able to break the
code until well into the next century.  The number was
known as R.S.A. 129, after the coding system's

They offered $100 to anyone who could factor the

Dr. Arjen Lenstra, a computer scientist at Bellcore in
Morristown, NJ, said it took 100 quadrillion
calculations, contributed by more than 600 Internet
volunteers, to factor the number.  Derek Atkins, a
graduate student at MIT, collected the calculations,
checked them and passed them on to Dr. Lenstra.  Lenstra
used a Bellcore computer with 16,000 processors to churn
out the factors of R.S.A. 129.

The answer, the group said, is this:
563,958,705,058,989,075,147,599,290,026,879,543,541 =
4,638,493,387,843,990,820,577 X

The encoded message says: "The magic words are squeamish

Mr. Atkins said that the group is donating the $100
reward to the Free Software Foundation, a group that
distributes free computer programs.

[Golly!  I feel like a proud father.  Some of that work ran on "my" Sun
workstations while I was at Bellcore. I guess there's quite a few of us proud
fathers on this one...  -psl]

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []